The June 1, 2011 tornado saw an emergency response in Springfield like no other. It put policemen, firemen and city leaders to the test on so many different levels, but in the end, it made for a stronger city.
On a recent tour of areas of the city that were hit hardest by the tornado, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said, "It was surreal. It reminded me of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone."
That was Mayor Sarno’s first impression as he walked down Main Street into Springfield’s South End, one of the sections of the city hit hardest by the tornado. The first thing he saw was the tree damage in Court Square, but the tornado didn’t stop there.
"It hooks right, does a devastating job in the South End area. My old beloved South End Community Center takes a huge hit, and then it hooks left, goes up Central Street, destroys Maple High / Six Corners area," said Sarno.
Sarno continued, "It hit Springfield College and then really veers to the right and from South Branch Parkway and all the tributary side streets, Island Pond Road, just devastated the area."
We asked Sarno if he's pleased with the progress or could this go faster for him. He said, "Being a mayor, everything has to be done yesterday, but I am pleased."
Sarno continued, "Dryden School took a hit, not a complete hit, but a substantial hit and we were able to get that back on-line pretty quickly, quicker than Brookings, because Brookings, we had to rebuild. Again, the schools and the community came forward and we were able to get our kids back in school, different schools moving forward. Cathedral obviously took a direct hit and the kids were rehoused in other areas."
The tornado continued its path of destruction, zeroing in on the East Forest Park neighborhood.
"This took a massive hit here in East Forest Park and all these houses many of them were all destroyed. I remember going door to door here, our teams going door to door here," Sarno explained.
As we wrapped up our tour in East Forest Park, we asked Sarno if Springfield is better off than it was five years ago. He told us, "Yes."
When asked if the tornado turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Sarno said it did, adding, "Governor Patrick called me and said Dom, it was a Sunday, late Sunday morning, early afternoon and said Dom, I'm coming back. And we were walking together to address the media and almost in unison, we said with these storm clouds a silver lining is behind them. I said, you're absolutely right. Thank God nobody was killed, we had injuries, but we took upon this catastrophic event to say how can we use this to the betterment of the city of Springfield."
Mayor Sarno had high praise for his entire team, telling me the response and recovery has been a team effort from the time Springfield police and fire responded, to the clean-up and rebuilding.
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